Shop Class as Soulcraft

New York Times Bestseller
“A philosopher / mechanic destroys the pretensions of the high-prestige workplace and makes an irresistible case for working with one’s hands.

Shop Class as Soulcraft brings alive an experience that was once quite common, but now seems to be receding from society: making and fixing things. Those of us who sit in an office often feel a lack of connection to the material world and find it difficult to say exactly what we do all day. For anyone who felt hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, Shop Class as Soulcraft seeks to restore the honor of the manual trades as a life worth choosing.

On both economic and psychological grounds, Crawford questions the educational imperative of turning everyone into a “knowledge worker,” based on a misguided separation of thinking from doing, the work of the hand from that of the mind. Crawford shows us how such a partition, which began a century ago with the assembly line, degrades work for those on both sides of the divide.

But Crawford offers good news as well: the manual trades are very different from the assembly line, and from dumbed-down white collar work as well. They require careful thinking and are punctuated by moments of genuine pleasure. Based on his own experience as an electrician and mechanic, Crawford makes a case for the intrinsic satisfactions and cognitive challenges of manual work. The work of builders and mechanics is secure; it cannot be outsourced, and it cannot be made obsolete. Such work ties us to the local communities in which we live, and instills the pride that comes from doing work that is genuinely useful. A wholly original debut, Shop Class as Soulcraft offers a passionate call for self-reliance and a moving reflection on how we can live concretely in an ever more abstract world.”

Source: Matthew

From a review of Shop Class as Soulcraft at David
“So if he could be a guidance counselor, what would Crawford advise your graduate?

“If you have a natural bent toward scholarship, if you are attracted to the most difficult books out of an urgent need, and can spare four years to devote to them, go to college. In fact, approach college in the spirit of craftsmanship, going deep into the liberal arts and sciences. But if this is not the case, if the thought of sitting four more years in a classroom makes your skin crawl, the good news is that you don’t have to go through the motions and jump through the hoops for the sake of making a decent living. Even if you do go to college, learn a trade in the summers You’re likely to be less damaged and quite possibly better paid than a cubicle-dwelling tender of information systems or low-level ‘creative.’ To heed such advice would require a certain contrarian streak, as it entails rejecting a life course set out by others as obligatory and inevitable.”

5 thoughts on “Shop Class as Soulcraft”

  1. I think Scott Adams described the rise of the Computer Geek the best back in 1995.

    Scott Adams
    Windows Magazine, May 1995

    I get about 100 e-mail messages a day from readers of my comic strip “Dilbert.” Most are from disgruntled office workers, psychopaths, stalkers, comic-strip fans — that sort of person. But a growing number are from women who write to say they think Dilbert is sexy. Some say they’ve already married a Dilbert and couldn’t be happier.

    If you’re not familiar with Dilbert, he’s an electrical engineer who spends most of his time with his computer. He’s a nice guy but not exactly Kevin Costner.

    Okay, Dilbert is polite, honest, employed and educated. And he stays home. These are good traits, but they don’t exactly explain the incredible sex appeal. So what’s the attraction?

    I think it’s a Darwinian thing. We’re attracted to the people who have the best ability to survive and thrive. In the old days it was important to be able to run down an antelope and kill it with a single blow to the forehead.

    But that skill is becoming less important every year.

    Now all that matters is if you can install your own Ethernet card without having to call tech support and confess your inadequacies to a stranger whose best career option is to work in tech support.

    It’s obvious that the world has three distinct classes of people, each with its own evolutionary destiny:

    Knowledgeable computer users who will evolve into godlike non-corporeal beings who rule the universe (except for those who work in tech support).

    Computer owners who try to pass as knowledgeable but secretly use hand calculators to add totals to their Excel spreadsheets. This group will gravitate toward jobs as high school principals and operators of pet crematoriums. Eventually they will become extinct.

    Non-computer users who will grow tails, sit in zoos and fling dung at tourists.

    Obviously, if you’re a woman and you’re trying to decide which evolutionary track you want your offspring to take, you don’t want to put them on the luge ride to the dung-flinging Olympics. You want a real man. You want a knowledgeable computer user with evolution potential.

    And women prefer men who listen. Computer users are excellent listeners because they can look at you for long periods of time without saying anything. Granted, early in a relationship it’s better if the guy actually talks. But men use up all the stories they’ll
    ever have after six months. If a woman marries a guy who’s in, let’s say, retail sales, she’ll get repeat stories starting in the seventh month and lasting forever. Marry an engineer and she gets a great listener for the next 70 years.

    Plus, with the ozone layer evaporating, it’s a good strategy to mate with somebody who has an indoor hobby. Outdoorsy men are applying suntan lotion with SPF 10,000 and yet by the age of 30 they still look like dried chili peppers in pants. Compare that with the healthy glow of a man who spends 12 hours a day in front of a video screen.

    It’s also well established that computer users are better lovers. I know because I heard an actual anecdote from someone who knew a woman who married a computer user and they reportedly had sex many times. I realize this isn’t statistically valid, but you have to admit it’s the most persuasive thing I’ve written so far.

    If you still doubt the sexiness of male PC users, consider their hair. They tend to have either: (1) male pattern baldness — a sign of elevated testosterone — or (2) unkempt jungle hair — the kind you see only on people who just finished a frenzied bout of lovemaking. If this were a trial I think we could reach a verdict on the strong
    circumstantial evidence alone.

    I realize there are a lot of skeptics out there. They’ll delight in pointing out the number of computer users who wear wrist braces and suggest it isn’t the repetitive use of the keyboard that causes the problem. That’s okay. Someday those skeptics will be flinging dung at tourists. Then who’ll be laughing? (Answer to rhetorical question: everybody but the tourists.)

    Henry Kissinger said power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. And Bill Clinton said that knowledge is power. Therefore, logically, according to the U.S. government, knowledge of computers is the ultimate aphrodisiac. You could argue with me — I’m just a cartoonist — but it’s hard to argue with the government. Remember, they run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, so they must know a thing or two about satisfying women.

    You might think this was enough to convince anyone that men who use computers are sexy. But look at it from my point of view: I’m getting paid by the word for this article. I’m not done yet.

    In less enlightened times, the best way to impress women was to own a hot car. But women wised up and realized it was better to buy their own hot cars so they wouldn’t have to ride around with jerks.

    Technology has replaced hot cars as the new symbol of robust manhood. Men know that unless they get a digital line to the Internet no woman is going to look at them twice.

    It’s getting worse. Soon anyone who’s not on the World Wide Web will qualify for a government subsidy for the home-pageless. And nobody likes a man who takes money from the government, except maybe Marilyn Monroe, which is why the CIA killed her. And if you think that’s stupid, I’ve got 100 words to go.

    Finally, there’s the issue of mood lighting. Nothing looks sexier than a man in boxer shorts illuminated only by a 15-inch SVGA monitor. If we agree that this is every woman’s dream scenario, then I think we can also agree that it’s best if the guy knows how to use the computer. Otherwise, he’ll just look like a loser sitting in front of
    a PC in his underwear.

    In summary, it’s not that I think non-PC users are less attractive. It’s just that I’m sure they won’t read this article.

    So, be careful Phil and Carroll, or you might find yourself flinging dung at tourists.

  2. I like how you pointed out using much older tools because they were built better and can be worked with over and over versus the stuff they build today which uses cheaper materials and have to be replaced again and again such as the saw blades. There are excellent tools today but, you do have to scrutinize every tool you purchase today to avoid constantly replacing a part/s.

  3. It can take time to equip the shop with the right tools, so it is not necessarily a decision that can be instantly acted upon.

    For instance taking the humble wood saw. Nowadays there are saws imported from Eastern countries that are dirt cheap, but have tempered steel blades. After a while, these go dull, but cannot be resharpened. The craftsman or engineer therefore has to either keep buying new saws and throwing the old ones away, or to look out for secondhand saws with mild steel blades that can be resharpened time and again. Such a saw, in good condition, may cost several times more than the one-shot saw, but in a long run will prove the best value. The same applies to all tools and equipment. A shop equipped with many tools from a few decades ago is going to enjoy the advantage of sustainability.

    Someone setting out to be an engineer or craftsman needs to give some thought to this, and gradually build up their collection of good quality equipment, as well as inherit it from other family members.

    This is opposed to the tradesman, where time is of the essence, so he buys cheap equipment and materials, and wants to make a quick buck with no real satisfaction.

    As regards the person typing on a computer all day, this really is not good for the body, and we should feel sorry for such folk. They are screwing up their bodies all day, staring at a bright light and getting stressed out… Do we envy them ? I don’t think so !

  4. It’s interesting that many who go from college to the cube have no basic skills. No everyday knowledge. They’re quick to call someone to fix or install something they should really know how to do. Progress sometimes leaves one pretty dumbed down in the most basic areas.


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